An upcoming vote, if passed, will provide for new parks and fields for softball, baseball and football in Lee County as well as additional county sheriff’s deputies for the patrol division and for increased security in the county schools.
The proposed vote Sept. 9, for a 1 percent sales tax increase in the county, will make it possible for the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and Lee County Recreation Board to make these improvements in the county.
Currently there is no money in the county budget for these items and little likelihood that they will be funded on a regular basis. A “yes” vote by county voters would assure that funds would be provided annually. County Recreation has been zero-funded for the last five years, and no funds have been available to increase sheriff’s deputies despite significant increases in county population and demand for increased law enforcement presence in fast-growing areas of the county and in the county schools. Sheriff’s deputies in the schools are a proven deterrent to crime/violence in schools and have a proven positive impact on students as well as faculty.
“Citizens need to know that this money cannot be spent or used for anything other than the recreation and sheriff’s department, and the county will not be able to use it at their discretion,” explained Linda Hilyer, Lee County Board of Recreation secretary. “Voting to approve this sales tax increase will generate the money to build parks in their community or to ensure there is sufficient law enforcement in the areas and at the schools.”
To help explain the need for the increase and encourage a positive vote, county recreation will hold several “town hall meetings” in the days leading up to the vote:
– Aug. 26 at 6 p.m. in the Beauregard High School cafeteria.
– Aug. 28 at 5 p.m. in Smiths Station at the Ruritan Center.
– Sept. 2 at 6 p.m. in the Beulah Elementary School lunchroom.
– Sept. 4 at 6 p.m. at the Loachapoka High School lunchroom.
According to Hilyer, Beulah purchased about 40 acres of property for a community ballpark/recreational park almost five years ago. Beauregard purchased property almost six years ago for its park project. The funding, however, is needed to move forward on these community parks.
“There are plans already drawn up for the parks, which will have a football and soccer fields, concessions, playgrounds, picnic areas, senior and community buildings, seven baseball/softball fields for the youth and future walking trails,” Hilyer said. “The proposed park projects will benefit the whole community. There is currently no park within either of the two areas to use for the youth and the community. Both areas need something in their communities for their families to enjoy together. Even if they do not play ball there will be a park for their use for picnics and outings for their families.”
Hilyer said Loachapoka has not located any property to purchase at this time and is still looking. Smiths Station is the only area that has a park, and it is still a work in progress.
“Should this vote pass,” Hilyer said, “we will receive funding to start the park projects and finish the Smiths Station park.”
The funding is also important to the sheriff’s office, with half of the additional 1 percent sales tax dedicated to financing the hiring of additional sheriff’s deputies. “Part of these additional uniformed deputies would increase the number patrolling Lee County roads to increase law enforcement presence and decrease response times to citizen calls,” said Sheriff Jay Jones. “Part would fund additional deputies to be stationed in Lee County schools as “school resource officers,” to provide security for the schools and be on hand to provide counseling as needed to students and faculty.
As far as return, if the vote passes, the projected amount the tax will generate in the first year will be about $1 million, according to county administrator Roger Rendleman.
“There will be people who will vote no just because it is a tax and they do not want to pay another tax for anything,” Hilyer said. “My response would be to ask if they ever shop in Opelika, Auburn or Valley? The county areas do not have the businesses for all of our shopping needs, and we have to go outside of our community to one of these cities to do it. When we purchase anything in Opelika, Auburn or Valley, we are paying their sales tax, which is more than the county areas, and ours will still be less, even with a tax increase.
“So why not purchase more in your community when you can if you know it will be beneficial to your family?”
Hilyer also asked that people look at the increase as an investment.
“When purchases are made within the city limits by the county residents, they are paying more sales tax, which is a source of income for the city’s recreational activities, not county recreation,” Hilyer pointed out. “People would be investing in their own family and community.”
The last allocation county recreation received was $217,000 in 2009. Once that amount was divided as required – among each unicorporated area and into a special projects fund – “there is not much per area to work with,” Hilyer said.
“The county has put forth this 1 percent sales tax increase referendum for a vote twice, and this will be the final time we will have the opportunity to get the help we need for the county areas,” Hilyer continued. “It will not come again. We hope it will pass this time. The Lee County Board of Recreation is working hard to get the word out to their citizens.”
Elected officials are prohibited by law from lobbying for or against this legislation, which is why citizen groups such as the county recreation board as well as others interested in improved public services in Lee County must publicize this vote and what it means to county residents.